See inside a family's 300-square-foot tiny house on wheels that took just 6 months to build

Ryan TuttleThe 300-square-foot residence has been the Fishbeyns’ home since 2017.
  • Bela and Spencer Fishbeyn, a California-based couple, have been living in a 300-square-foot tiny house on wheels with their daughter since 2017.
  • The house, which was built in less than six months, features eight distinct spaces, including a kitchen, master bedroom, walk-in closet, and a kid’s play space.
  • The Fishbeyns rent out their home for much of the year, allowing them to travel.
  • “I think a lot of people look at tiny houses as the end,” Bela Fishbeyn told Insider. “But for us, and I think for most people who move into a tiny house, it’s just the beginning.”
  • For instance, in 2020, the Fishbeyns plan to spend a month living in a van. You can follow their journey on Instagram.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Meet Bela and Spencer Fishbeyn, a California-based couple who have been living in a 300-square-foot tiny house on wheels since 2017.

Ryan TuttleThe 300-square-foot home has been the Fishbeyns’ home since 2017.

The Fishbeyns used to live more traditionally in the San Francisco Bay area, but a combination of the high cost of living, a desire to travel more, and an interest in starting their own business led them to look towards downsizing, as Bela Fishbeyn explained to Insider.

“We looked at housing as a first step towards turning our life into our work,” Bela said. Bela is the executive managing editor for the American Journal of Bioethics at Stanford, while Spencer is a stay-at-home family man, working on projects and taking care of their daughter, Escher.

“We thought that with the right housing solution, we could begin to centre our lives around our family and our passion,” Bela added.

They decided to build a tiny house on wheels that sits in the mountains of Santa Cruz, California.

Bela FishbeynThe house sits in Santa Cruz, California.

The house took just six months to build, and putting it on wheels sped the process along.

“The nice thing about having a tiny house on wheels is that we could bypass a lot of permitting and red tape that normally slows down custom houses,” Bela said.

“At the same time, we had to carve our own path every step of the way,” she said, as there aren’t many guides on how to create that sort of living space. “Nothing was laid out simply, but we knew the reward was there if we could solve all the problems.”

The house has eight distinct spaces, which is unique for a tiny home.

Ryan TuttleThe home has eight spaces.

“We never wanted our home to feel like a studio because we were afraid we’d get bored with that,” Bela said.

The home features a kitchen, master bedroom, office, bathroom, walk-in closet, kid’s bedroom, kid’s play space, and what they call the “great room.”

“I know that sounds like a lot, but by giving each space its own special purpose, the whole home feels expansive,” Bela said. “We never feel like it’s only 300 square feet.”

The couple also has a large deck, two patios, a canvas tent, and hiking areas on their property.

“We prefer to keep the aesthetic as natural as possible,” Bela said of their approach to decorating the tiny home.

Bela FishbeynThe Fishbeyns’ kitchen.

“We tend to use earth-toned or monochrome colours and add in as many different natural textures and materials as possible,” Bela said, pointing to materials like copper, linen, wool, and floral decorations.

“It’s so nice working on the house together because we get a perfect blend of feminine and masculine styles,” she added.

The Fishbeyns tend to stay away from using tricks to optimise space, as Bela told Insider.

Bela FishbeynThe Fishbeyns don’t use organizational tricks.

“Every time we tried to use a trick to try to optimise our space, we didn’t do so well,” she said.

Instead, they created each space with a specific intention, streamlining the design.

“When you have a small space full of little nooks and crannies, all perfectly designed for one purpose, your home feels like a magical mystery house,” Bela said.

“It becomes somewhere that you’re excited to be and somewhere that never feels boring. This is the advice we always give when we’re helping people design their own small spaces.”

Bela said the master bedroom is her favourite part of the home.

Ryan TuttleTheir bedroom is Bela’s favourite space.

The room is taken up entirely by a king-sized bed, and it’s surrounded by windows.

“The window ‘headboard’ gives this incredible sensation of floating through the sky,” she said. “At night, we close the shoji paper doors and the light from our heater glimmers in. It’s a dream, even though it’s so tiny compared to every other bedroom we’ve ever slept in.”

“It’s really a magical place, and no photo can do justice to the lived experience of lying down in that bed,” Bela added.

“The biggest challenge is that you’re creating a new style of living,” Bela said of tiny living.

Bela FishbeynMoving into the house was a risk.

“There’s no infrastructure, no mortgages, no clear-cut zoning or regulations. It’s all a grey area, and we really felt like we were standing at the edge of a cliff when we had to stare down all these obstacles,” she said of the decision to move into a tiny house.

Another challenge was the risk involved with such a big lifestyle change.

“We invested every single penny that we could into this house,” Bela said. “We thought that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to give ourselves every chance to succeed.”

The couple included two spaces specifically designed for their daughter Escher in the house.

Bela FishbeynEscher’s room.

“It’s a very raw experience to raise a toddler in a tiny space,” Bela said. “Attached at the hip doesn’t even come close. After a while, we all start to blend together.”

“I don’t think it’s for everyone, but we specifically wanted a rich and all-encompassing family experience. We wanted our own culture,” she added. “Our family is never closer than when we’re there.”

The couple is expecting their second child in 2020.

After the first year of living in the house, the couple began renting it out so they could travel.

Bela FishbeynThe Fishbeyns travel half the year.

“Right now, we spend about half the year at the home,” Bela told Insider. “We’re usually there for spring and fall because they’re such extraordinary seasons in California, and we generally spend winters visiting family for the holidays and summers travelling.”

But because of the fluid lifestyle the house allows, the Fishbeyns know the way they live could change drastically in the future.

“We’re trying to develop our second home near our family on the East Coast, and we’re always working, working, working to build a real business for ourselves,” Bela said.

“Five years from now, we’re hoping to have many houses like this set up across the United States (and maybe abroad) and spend each year travelling between the different houses.”

“I don’t think anything is as surprising as the feeling of first stepping into the home,” Bela said of their space.

Ryan TuttleThe home feels larger than it is, according to Bela.

“You see the home from the outside and you can tell that it’s so small, but when you step inside, that all drops away,” she said.

“The style and proportions remind you of a luxury home, but you know you’re just on a trailer bed. It’s a little twinkle in the back of our minds even now.”

“You think you’ll know what it feels like, but it’s really like walking into Narnia through the wardrobe or something,” Bela added.

Bela estimates the tiny house saves the Fishbeyns $US1,000 a month today when compared to their living expenses before they downsized.

Bela FishbeynThey see the house as an investment.

“The home pays for itself over the year with some profit on top that we reinvest (we’re right in the middle of installing a cedar soak tub outside),” Bela told Insider, thanks to the income they get from renting out the house.

“It was a lot of work to get it there, but it’s a pretty well-oiled machine at this point and we feel privileged to own such a useful and inspiring home.”

“We looked at it as an investment, not so much as a money saver,” she said of the move.

Bela advises people looking to downsize to start by selling things you don’t need.

Bela FishbeynDownsizing often starts with purging.

“Start by trying to recover all the money that is locked up in the stuff you’re not using,” she said.

“Once you spend a couple of days selling stuff and suddenly have an extra thousand dollars, you get hooked. It’s empowering and you’ll begin to reorient yourself on everything you buy.”

“Tiny homes or other non-traditional living solutions are what enables you to set out in a new direction,” Bela said of her family’s life.

Ryan TuttleThe Fishbeyns are just getting started with unique styles of living.

“I think a lot of people look at tiny houses as the end,” Bela said.

“You downsize, you move in, then you live in a tiny house forever. But for us, and I think for most people who move into a tiny house, it’s just the beginning.”

“I don’t think anyone could take on this type of project without discovering a new perspective on where their life could go,” she added.

The family will be taking downsizing to the next level in February 2020 when they try living out of a van for a month.

Ryan TuttleThe Fishbeyns will be spending a month living out of a van in 2020.

“We think that when people look at making changes (big and small) as experiments, they’re more opened up to the opportunity without being bound to a long-term decision,” Bela said.

You can follow their journey on Instagram.

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